Programming Camp returns for seventh year, expanding reach to rural students

Rachel Wong leaning over the shoulder of a middle schooler seated at a computer.

For the seventh year in a row, Washington State University’s College of Education will host its Programming Camp, offering middle-school students a unique opportunity to develop their computational thinking and problem-solving skills. 

The traditional in-person camp will take place Aug. 14–18 at WSU Pullman. For the fourth year in a row, the camp is also offering a virtual option on Aug. 7–11, providing greater accessibility to individuals beyond the Pullman community.

Sola Adesope, a Boeing distinguished professor of STEM education, and the primary investigator of the Boeing-sponsored camp, emphasized the importance of addressing the disparities in STEM training for rural students. 

“Unlike their peers living in more urban communities, rural students do not have the same learning opportunities in the summer,” he said. “There is overwhelming evidence showing that kids living in rural areas are at disadvantage in terms of getting robust STEM training, hence this camp addresses a long-standing national problem.”

Carla de Lira and Funso Oje, both computer science doctoral students, will help coordinate the camp with the help of other students from the College of Education and Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture. De Lira said both the in-person and online camps are important for generating interest in computing at a time when kids are most apt to formulating the interests that could eventually inform their career choices.

“Since it leads to a higher likelihood of students pursuing a computing career in university, middle school is the best time to introduce them to computing in a way that is fun and exciting,” she said. “Our team spends a lot of time and effort making the programming camp an engaging and welcoming learning environment by providing guidance to students to code a snake game, computer graphics, and interactive chatbots.”

Be online or in-person, de Lira said “the feedback from students has been largely positive and it’s so nice when parents reach out to us and let us know how much their children enjoyed our camps.”

Adesope hinted that this camp, which has been going strong since 2017, may expand to include a potential year-round camp starting with an intensive summer camp and monthly follow-ups based on project-based learning principles. Adesope is collaborating with his former student and now Assistant Professor Rachel Wong from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, VCEA’s Venera Arnadova, and COE’s Jonah Firestone to seek federal, state and foundation support to continue the programming camp. 

Adesope said, “In addition to the parents expressing gratitude for their children spending time in the summer learning a new skill, empirical evidences have also shown that children who attend the programming camp develop more robust computational thinking skills after the camp.”

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